A consultant is recommending that Riverside Elementary School District 96 spend nearly $600,000 over the next two years to update, modernize and coordinate its computer infrastructure.

Tom Jakobsen of Client First Technology Consulting presented his report to the District 96 Board of Education at its Oct. 15 meeting.

“There’s obsolete equipment in all of the buildings,” Jakobsen said.

Mary Rose Mangia, the president of the District 96 Board of Education called the report “sobering.”

Client First, which was paid $9,000 to perform the assessment, said that the district was short of bandwidth, its servers were antiquated and its systems lacked adequate backups. The report also said that $25,000 to $35,000 worth of computer equipment was purchased but not deployed at the start of the school year.

“I’m glad that we engaged someone to do this kind of audit, because it’s been something that I’ve been questioning for years,” said board member Art Perry, who works as an IT consultant. “I think the report showed some things that I’d already observed myself that needed to be addressed.”

Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis pushed for a review of the district’s technology since she came on board in July. She first met with Client First in early August. At the school board’s September meeting, Director of Academic Excellence Brian Ganan and Director of Finance and Operations Zack Zayed delivered harsh criticisms of the district’s technology infrastructure, saying that students and teachers frequently could not quickly access the Internet and that the district’s email system frequently crashed.

Board members were surprised this summer by a $426,584 bill from Apple Inc. for computers and other equipment left for them by outgoing Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.

Perry said that he was disappointed to hear of equipment not being used.

“There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of coordination and oversight in some of those purchasing decisions,” Perry said. “If there’s Apple equipment that’s not being used and sitting in a closet or a classroom or in a room, that’s very disappointing because we need to make sure we’re using all the things that we purchase.”

Jakobsen said the district needs to improve its ability to access the Internet. The district currently uses Comcast Business Class, which Jakobsen described as “essentially a dressed up residential service” as its connection to the Internet.

He said the district should switch to a fiber optic-based system that will likely cost a little more than $2,000 per month compared to the $800 per month the district is now paying.

He recommended that the district centralize its servers at the Hauser/Central School computer room instead of the current system of each school having its own servers and system. Jakobsen also recommended the district move to a cloud-based email system to replace the district’s current Apple email system.

“Apple Mail is not really built for an organization your size,” Jakobsen said.

Jakobsen showed the board photos of the computer rooms at Central and Ames School that show wires covered with plastic bags to prevent water damage. He said those rooms must be fixed to make sure water does not drip on servers.

He also criticized elements of the district’s renovation done over the past two summers, saying that there are not enough wireless access points in the district, apparently a result of cost-cutting during the renovation.

“The estimate is you’re about 25 access points short of a full deck,” Jakobsen said.

About 5 percent of the newly installed white boards are not working properly, Jakobsen said. He also recommended centralizing printing in each school instead of having printers in every classroom. This would save money and staff time, Jakobsen said, because printers frequently break down and large printers are far more efficient.

In addition, Jakobsen recommended creating a help desk with two part-time technicians and reorganizing the district’s technology staffing. In a recommendation with ominous implications for current Director of Technology Vern Bettis, Jakobsen recommended having a hands-on information systems manager rather than a high level director of technology.

“For the size district you have, having an IT director responsible for it is overkill,” Jakobsen said. “I think you should have a manager responsible who’s really a working manager, who spends time actually working on some of these projects.”

Perry said that made sense to him.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a certified instructional technology role,” Perry said.

Perry said that he wasn’t sure how a restructuring would affect Bettis or whether Bettis, who has a one year contract, would continue to work for District 96 after this year.

“I don’t know,” Perry said. “We’ll have to see how this is going to shape up and see what the roles are going to be going forward.”

Sharma-Lewis declined to comment when asked about Bettis’ future with the district.

“It is inappropriate for me to comment on personnel matters prior to BOE action and/or discussion,” Sharma-Lewis said in an email.

Sharma-Lewis said in the same email that the technology assessment that she pushed for was necessary.

“The D96 Board of Education and administration are committed to researching the best ways to strengthen and improve the technology infrastructure of the district to support 21st-century teaching, learning, innovation and security systems” said Sharma-Lewis in an email. “We will be discussing the Client First recommendations at the Nov. 5 finance committee meeting and which ones, if any, to implement, how and when.”

Perry said that he had concerns about the cost of the Client First recommendations.

“I certainly think we can do it for less money than that,” Perry said. “I also don’t necessarily think that we need to do every single thing that they’re recommending in the way they’re recommending it. I think we need to talk through some of these things and understand our goals.”

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